Goodlad Seeks Stronger School-University Alliances

By Lynn Olson — March 18, 1987 15 min read
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“What this consortium has the potential to do is enable educators to take back the responsibility for deciding how change takes place,’' she says, “and then to advocate that to the lawmakers.’'

It is a task that the author of the influential study A Place Called School sees as paving the way to a genuine school-reform movement--one based on renewal, rather than mandates.

“The most significant changes occur when two cultures bump up against one another,’' he says, “and that’s why I want the universities and schools to work together. They’re different cultures.’'

This revitalizing exchange of ideas has been missing, he says, as the two worlds have grown increasingly distant and distinct.

“People in the schools, who have to make decisions rapidly, in a particular set of circumstances, don’t have time to be reflective,’' he explains. “The universities have the time, but they don’t have a sense of the problems that are going on in the schools.’'
One of an occasional series of articles examining major initiatives to restructure schools and teaching.

The result, Mr. Goodlad argues, has been a crisis in schooling of such immense proportions that “nothing short of reconceptualizing and reconstructingpublic education will suffice.’'

Under his leadership, 14 partnerships between 17 universities and approximately 100 school districts in various parts of the country have agreed to spend at least five years attacking some of the entrenched problems plaguing American schools and teacher-preparation programs.

The University of Washington professor created the coalition of partnerships, known as the National Network for Educational Renewal, last spring.

It is part of a larger study on how teachers are prepared and educated, which is being supported this year by grants totaling approximately $375,000, primarily from the Exxon Education Foundation, the Danforth Foundation, and the Mertz-Gilmore Foundation. (See related story on this page.)

In January, the executive directors of the partnerships met for the first time to begin hammering out their agenda.

Over the course of three often frustrating days, they struggled to give workable dimensions to an initiative that will involve both an unprecedented level of cooperation between schools and universities, and a redistribution of power among teachers, professors, principals, and school superintendents.

‘Third Worlds’

Ann Lieberman, executive director of the Puget Sound Educational Consortium and a professor of education at the University of Washington, describes the new collaborations as “incredibly powerful’’ forces for change.

“These consortia are organizational ‘third worlds,’'' she says. “They allow you to do things that you can’t exactly do in the university, and you can’t exactly do in the school district.’'

Each of the partnerships--located in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming--eventually will include one or two universities and up to a dozen school systems.

Most are still in their infancy.They have spent much of the past year building a level of trust between university and school personnel that will allow them to proceed.

“Getting a spirit of collaboration and cooperation going has been the most difficult thing,’' says Sara Murphy, senior consultant for the Arkansas Education Renewal Consortium.

‘There’s a ‘turf protection’ tendency in all of us--the tendency to pull back in and go for it in my institution, and to consider myself in competition with surrounding institutions.’'

But the issue of trust is particularly important in the kinds of partnerships Mr. Goodlad envisions.

Unlike traditional school-university collaborations, in which the university retains the upper hand, the partners in the National Network are supposed to work as “equals.’' The expectation is that both sides will have something to contribute to the other.

‘The Air We Breathe’

To join the Network, the members of each partnership had to agree to meet a range of structural and organizational requirements.

They had to hire an executive director, for example, and muster the support of the chief academic officers at participating universities.

Each partnership also agreed to work on at least one of a series of problems identified by Mr. Goodlad.

Those include creating better clinical settings for preparing teachers; developing a common curriculum for all students; and encouraging diversity and creativity in teaching, so that more students have access to the curriculum.

The Network does not dictate, however, what individual partnerships do. Each partnership is financially self-sufficient and is expected to develop its own agenda based on local needs.

According to Mr. Goodlad, the problems he has identified are so basic to education that any partnership dedicated to fundamental change eventually will encounter them.

Such problems as equal access to schooling, he notes, “are as pervasive as the air we breathe.’'

“You cannot be an educator in America,’' he says, “without understanding that the problem of equity is absolutely embedded in everything we do.’'

Early Activities

But tackling such problems will take time, and Mr. Goodlad concedes that the Network has “no list of accomplishments at this stage of the game.’'

To date, it has created three national task forces that reflect the interests of the partnerships: one on the structural barriers within schools that deny students equal access to knowledge; one on the selection and evaluation of school principals; and one on how the partnerships will go about documenting and evaluating their reform efforts.

In addition, three regional coordinators and a small core staff are available to work with the partnerships on a limited basis.

Some of the activities that individual partnerships are engaged in include:

  • Creating clinical school settings where prospective teachers can learn the best in research and practice.
  • Redesigning training programs for principals to include more work in the schools.
  • Finding new ways to group students that ignore traditional age grading and ability grouping.
  • Changing school structures, such as tracking, that now increase some students’ risk of educational failure.
  • Identifying ways to increase equity within schools and to recognize equitable schools, based on measures other than standardized test scores.

In Utah, for example, the Brigham Young University-School District Partnership began a “mentor-principal program’’ last fall that places prospective principals in schools for a year under the close supervision of experienced administrators.

In addition, four “partner’’ schools in the Brigham Young collaboration will work closely with university faculty members to design and provide inservice and preservice training for teachers; experiment with curricular and structural change; and serve as research laboratories for school-improvement efforts.

The partnership has also created seven task forces, one of which is looking at the entire content of Brigham Young’s preparation program for elementary- and secondary-school teachers, from academic requirements to methodological training. Eight of the 12 members on that task force are schoolpeople.

‘Teach My Class’

The mix of university and school personnel in all these projects has made a “real difference’’ in outlook and approach, according to Dan W. Andersen, associate dean in Brigham Young’s college of education.

“We were made aware--at least from the perceptions of those in the field--that too much that had gone on [in teacher training] was removed from their actual day-to-day experiences,’' he says.

“We also learned that we have a role to play in provoking the things we think should go on in the field,’' he notes. “Our role will continue to be to make certain that the latest and best in research is accommodated and accounted for.’'

According to Mr. Goodlad, “The misperception in the schools is that what the university does is useless, unless the professor can come in and ‘teach my class.’''

“We are not asking people in the university to go out and teach that junior-high-school class better than the teacher does,’' he says. “That’s nonsense. If that’s the case, what has the junior-high-school teacher el40lbeen doing all these years?’'

“The university has a whole different set of values which the schools need,’' he argues, “and schools have lots of activities that universities can profit from.’'

‘New Paradigm’

The basic aim, according to Mr. Goodlad, is to create a “new paradigm’’ for the way change occurs, one based on “self-renewal’’ at the school site, rather than mandates imposed from above.

For innovation to last, he argues, people in schools must feel “empowered’’ to act on problems that are relevant to them.

According to Mr. Goodlad, the ideas behind the National Network are based on “40 years in the vineyard for me, developing a fairly fullblown strategy for change.’'

Starting with a school-university partnership in Atlanta during the 1940’s, Mr. Goodlad has been involved in numerous attempts to promote educational innovation.

Those experiences helped mold some of the ideas he expresses in A Place Called School: Prospects for the Future, which has been hailed as one of the most thoughtful of the recent reports on school reform.

In it, he argues for “genuine decentralization of authority and responsibility to the local school.’'

The individual school, he writes, “must become largely self-directing. The people connected with it must develop a capacity for effecting renewal and establish mechanisms for doing this.’'

‘Rate-Buster Syndrome’

But to be effective, he adds, individual schools must have outside support for their efforts. One institution working alone, he argues, cannot successfully change the system.

“For one institution to renew itself is very difficult and very dangerous,’' he says, “because if you do anything significant, you’ll be shot down.’'

“It’s the rate-buster syndrome,’' he notes. “The person who goes on the assembly line and thinks he can do 16 pieces an hour instead of 12 gets beat up.’'

“If anybody in this operation is going to be really bold, really challenge the conventions of schooling,’' he says of the partnership concept, “they’ve got to have compatriots.’'

The importance of building an infrastructure that supports change is one reason Mr. Goodlad created the National Network.

It is also why the 14 partnerships in the Network are required to engage superintendents, as well as teachers and principals, in the change process.

Each partnership, for example, includes a governing body consisting of the dean of the school of education from the participating university and the superintendent of each participating school district. Members of the governing body have an equal vote on issues related to the partnership.

“If you don’t have the support of the superintendents,’' says Neil Schmidt, superintendent of the Fillmore Unified School District in the California partnership, “it’s so much fluff down the line, because, lo and behold, the district or the superintendent comes up with a decision that negates entirely what you’ve been doing.’'

“Superintendents have to be involved in this effort,’' Mr. Schmidt adds, “if you’re going to make it a part of the daily life of a large number of teachers and staff.’'

Learned Helplessness

One of the hardest things for many of the partnerships to accomplish, however, has been moving beyond the superintendent’s office to involve teachers and principals.

“The norm in schools is helplessness and powerlessness,’' explains Paul Heckman, executive director of the Southern Maine Partnership and professor of education at the University of Southern Maine.

Jean M. Logan, a 1st-grade teacher in the Plummer-Motz Elementary School in Falmouth, Me., says, for example, that teachers “haven’t been encouraged to look at research, basically because of time constraints.’'

“It’s not something that you sit down and do after you’ve finished your planning for the next week,’' she says.

The partnership has been a “reinvigorating force,’' according to Ms. Logan.

“It’s given me the time and the reason to distance myself from what I’m doing, to look at the research, to start looking at ways to bring my classroom practices more in line with what the research suggests is effective, and to hopefully make my classroom a more effective and affective educational setting for my students.’'

The Southern Maine Partnership began involving teachers and principals in its work almost immediately. Principals, as well as superintendents, meet as a group once a month to discuss common concerns.

In addition, four groups of teachers are now meeting monthly on problems specific to early-childhood education, mathematics, middle schools, and high schools.

According to Mr. Heckman, some superintendents and principals have also expressed interest in creating similar forums for teachers in their individual schools or districts.

School Teams

In the Massachusetts Coalition for School Improvement, for example, each school in the partnership has put together an “improvement team’’ at the school site, consisting of the principal and at least four to six teachers.

The team members are supposed to work together to identify improvements in the curriculum, instruction, and other school conditions that would enhance student learning.

“What we’re doing,’' says Tom J. Kane, principal of Memorial Elementary School in Winchendon, Mass., “is getting the conditions in place that are going to allow real meaningful teacher-directed change to take place.

He says the conditions allow a change from a “top-down decisionmaking structure to a more bottom-up system.’'

Mr. Heckman adds a cautionary note. “I don’t believe we are getting real substantial change behind the classroom door yet,’' he says. “I think what we’re getting is preparatory to it.’'

“I have a feeling that when change happens,’' he adds, “it will happen exponentially.’'

Time To Work

Time is the crucial factor, say many of those involved in the partnerships.

“Teachers, in order to improve education, need to have time to do it,’' says Susan C. Fletcher, a teacher at the Shutesbury School in Shutesbury, Mass., who chaired a task force on improving writing instruction in elementary schools for the Massachusetts coalition.

At Memorial Elementary School in Winchendon, for example, university faculty members substituted in the classroom for teachers, freeing them to observe other teachers’ work.

The district’s superintendent has also set aside one day a year when the schools will close down, allowing all employees, from teachers to school custodians, to visit other school systems and observe what they do.

At Ms. Logan’s school in Maine, teachers have proposed that all of the specialists who work with 1st graders be brought in during the same time period each day, so that 1st-grade teachers have time to meet collaboratively.

“It sounds minor’’ says Ms. Logan, “but it opens avenues for us to get to the nuts and bolts of implementing change. Before, you never saw anyone during your free period, because all the other teachers were in their classrooms.’'

Reward System

On the university side, one of the major obstacles partnerships must overcome is a rewards system biased toward theoretical research, which often discourages faculty members from working with the schools.

“In most research universities,’' notes Ms. Lieberman, “there’s a rather narrow view of what it means to be a scholar. And what it means is to turn out a lot of papers. You get rewarded for being in referreed journals, and not in those that practitioners would read.’'

“This may well be the Achilles’ heel’’ of the initiative, according to Mr. Goodlad, “whether or not the reward systems within universities can be changed.’'

At Brigham Young University, for example, Mr. Andersen has encouraged some of his faculty members to spend up to half their time in the schools.

“Our desire is to let schoolpeople know that we’re in the trenches with them. It isn’t a matter of coming out for an occasional visit,’' he says.

His hope, he adds, is that these professors will be able to draw on their field-based experience to produce the “kind of respectable research that would be looked at by promotion-advancement committees.’'

Robert L. Sinclair, executive director of the Massachusetts partnership and director of the center for curriculum studies at the University of Massachusetts, argues, however, that the “judgment is still out’’ on how serious universities are about changing their reward structures.

“We’re seeing that there are ways for university people to work in collaboration with teachers so that publications and research can be increased, rather than slowed down,’' he says.

‘Critical Mass’

According to Mr. Goodlad, the large number of universities and school districts now involved in the National Network for Educational Renewal represents a “critical mass of people’’ who can also foment change at the state and national levels.

“Part of the work of the National Network will be to push for state policies that support more enlightened dialogues and more enlightened approaches to change,’' he maintains. “We do not intend to be inactive in the advocacy arena.’'

The partnerships in Colorado, Utah, and Washington State, for example, represent between 30 percent and 50 percent of the public-school population in those states. The Arkansas partnership includes the two largest institutions in that state that prepare future teachers and administrators.

“We have an opportunity to have a real impact on policymaking,’' says Ms. Murphy of Arkansas.

“What this consortium has the potential to do is enable educators to take back the responsibility for deciding how change takes place,’' she says, “and then to advocate that to the lawmakers.’'

In Washington State, the Puget Sound Educational Consortium is studying state finance laws that place a limit on the amount of money school systems can raise through taxes.

With the help of a research assistant and a retired school superintendent, the consortium has created a computer program enabling each of its districts to calculate exactly how their money is spent--and to predict the effect that proposed changes in the finance law would have on their budgets.

The consortium plans to use that information to influence the state legislature this session, as it considers new school-finance proposals.

‘Fading Interest’

“My fear,’' Mr. Goodlad says, “is that within five years or so, there is going to be a fading of interest in reforming American education. The reform movement will have run its course, like it did in the 1960’s, and we’ll move on to other things.’'

“Since I’m pretty sure that this fading will occur,’' he adds, “I want to have in place a change strategy with a group of educators big enough not to be intimidated by backsliding--that terrible backsliding we do toward the tail-end of a reform movement, so that it takes 10 to 15 years to get people willing to try again.’'


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